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The Degrading Practice of Manual Scavenging is a blot on India's Human Rights

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

DATE- 18th June 2021


According to the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation

Act, 2013 a manual scavenger is a person engaged or employed for manually cleaning,

carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary

latrine or an open drain or pit. Some sections of caste-based individuals are even pushed into

manual scavenging after the decade of India's independence. The Scavengers are usually in

the lowest caste order, namely the Dalits or Shudras which carry out all kinds of unhealthy

acts that risk their lives by cleaning up blocked gutters to help society. The purpose of this

study is to carry out a complete study on scavengers, government regulations, the existing

situation, caste prejudice.

Keywords: Manual scavenging, Social discrimination. Caste-based differentiation,

Government initiatives


I may not be born again and if it happens, I will like to be born in a family of scavengers so

that I may relieve them of the inhuman, unhealthy, and hateful practice of carrying head loads of night-soil.

- Mahatma Gandhi

Manual scavenging in India: A Historical background

Manual Scavenging is the term used to describe the method of manual removal of human

excreta from pit toilets by hand using a shovel. This method of human waste removal was

officially prohibited by law in the year 1993 as it had always been considered a caste-based

and dehumanizing practice.

The work of manual scavengers to purge a certain sort of dry latrine that requires manual

every day purging was denied in India in 1993. This law was expanded and clarified to

incorporate insanitary toilets, trench, and pits in 2013.

Manual Scavenging in Urban India

In today’s India scavengers and sweepers still carry out these services not only in small towns

but in big cities too Most of them are employed by local urban authorities for basic

sanitation of the sewers and roads. However, a significant chunk of people still works in this

occupation. Which means manual scavengers are still cleaning toilets by hand.

Caste and Class Struggles

According to the Hindu society, scavengers have been treated as untouchables even by other untouchable castes present. These people are from the lowest rung of society. The cleaning of dry toilets is mostly done by the woman of the community whereas the men are indulged in cleaning septic tanks and sewers.

As Caste and Gender Inequalities Combine-A woman faces twice the discrimination

In 2018, the European Commission-European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights

(ECID), supported by Association for Rural and Urban Needy (Center for Equal Center)

undertook a baseline survey to assess the status of women manually scaled in four states of

India as part of a project Strengthening the Rule of Law and advancing the rights and

freedom of manuals scalers in India.

The survey 2 findings show that manual scavenging and dry latrines in four states are

common. The safai karmacharis live in isolated and excluded colonies, facing persecution and oppression for three generations or more.

The survey statistics show that 92% of the women polled are involved as manual scavengers

and caste and patriarchy have and continue to play a major part in the maintenance of manual scavenging. The study revealed pervasive discrimination and even violence towards

safai karamcharis.

The survey has found that

1) Manual scavenging and dry latrines are prevalent in the four states

2) There are significant gaps in the implementation of laws and policies for the liberation and

rehabilitation of women engaged in various forms of manual scavenging, particularly

cleaning of dry latrines

3) There is a lack of knowledge and awareness among safai karmacharis about their rights and entitlement.

4) Caste and patriarchy is actively used to condition and oppress the scheduled caste women

and men into manual scavenging

Measures to Eradicate Scavenging still are Insufficient

Manual scavenging was formally prohibited for the first time in the country in 1950 by the

Gobichettipalayam Municipality, which was chaired by G.S. LakshmanIyer. Eight years later,

the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958, was signed, stating that

the government needed to establish a national agency on an equal opportunity, as well as remove contradictory laws and practices.

The Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955, had been enacted to abolish the practice of

untouchability and social disabilities arising out of it against members of the scheduled

castes. This act was then amended in 1977 and is now known as the Protection of Civil

Rights Act, 1955. Significant changes were made under this amendment such as the practice

of untouchability was made both cognizable and non-compoundable offense and stricter

punishment was provided for the offenders.

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, came

into force on January 31, 1990. The Act stipulates sorts of crimes as atrocities, lays down

tougher sanctions for guilty individuals, and established special tribunals for prompt

judgment in such situations. The primary purpose of the Act will be to prevent the

commission of atrocities infringements against members of the castes and the planned tribes, to enable relief and rehabilitation to be provided for victims of such crimes and related problems.

In 1993, the Ministry of Urban Development under the Narasimha Rao government passed,

after six states requested the Central Government to develop a law, The Employment of

manual scavengers and the Construction of dry latrines (Prohibition Act). The1993

Prohibition Act punishes the use of manual scavengers and the building of dry latrines for up

to one year's imprisonment and/or an. 2000 fine in the construction of dry (non-flush)

latrines. During the 20 years, it was in force, no convictions were achieved under the law.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 was

with the objectives to eliminate unsanitary latrines, prohibit the employment of manual

scavengers, and the hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks, and maintain a

survey of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation. These all legislations are of no use as

this evil practice is still persistent in our nation.

Reasons for this Insufficiency

The existence of this practice cannot be put solely on the legislation. One of the main reasons that this practice persists today is the government's failure to ban individual families from illegally employing manual scavengers. People in villages hire the majority of manual scavengers to clean dry toilets 4 . Even though government statistics show that a considerable

majority of dry latrines are still prevalent, no measures have been taken up to stop this



Manual scavenger’s caste-designated occupation strengthens the social shame that they are

impure or “untouchable” and sustains far-reaching separation. We can conclude that indeed

after the existing laws and recently enacted law on manual scavenging, it is still predominant

within the nation. The Supreme Court of the nation has already made it crystal clear in

SafaiKaramcharisAndolan&Ors. Case (supra) that the state has to implement the act, if the

same is not done then one can approach the High Court of the respective state. But even the state has been a perpetrator by their negligence and apathy and in some cases directly

employing as manual scavengers. The normalization and internalization of caste-based

discrimination and patriarchal oppression by men and women from every caste and

community-led to deeply established manual scavenging. Sustained efforts to remove and

eliminate these structures will be required to dismantle this evil from our society.


1 “Commission Calls Manual Scavenging as One of the Worst Violations of Human Rights” (National Human Rights Commission India) <> accessed June 16, 2021

2 Status of Women Engaged in Manual Scavenging: Report based on a Baseline survey undertaken in 2018 in four states of India~

3 Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

4 Bhimasha J and Sedamkar CB, “ SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDITIONS OF MANUAL SCAVENGERS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO GULBARGA DISTRICT OF KARNATAKA STATE” (2015) 4 Indian Streams Research Journal Written by Jivitesh Singh, Research Intern at Stambh Organization India

INSTITUTION- University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University

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